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Regional Reviews by Bill Eadie

A Dram of Drummhicit
La Jolla Playhouse

Also see Bill's review of August: Osage County

A Dram of Drummhicit
Polly Lee and Lucas Hall
Quick, what's the first thing that comes to mind when you see the word, "Scotland?" Yes, you're right. How about the second thing? Right again. So, a play about a Scottish town that makes a perfectly awful single-malt and being about the worst place possible for an American entrepreneur to build a golf resort sounds predictable but possibly funny, right?

Of course, it's all been done before, in the delightful 1983 film Local Hero. There, a young American "fixer" goes to a remote Scottish town on behalf of his eccentric entrepreneur boss, intent on persuading the locals to allow the Americans to despoil its charms with an oil drilling operation. The young American encounters a group of quirky locals and ends up falling in love with the town and with a young woman who is more than she seems.

And, it's been done in real life, as when Donald Trump tried to build a golf resort in a remote part of Scotland only to have the whole deal queered, at least temporarily, by a landowner who refused to sell no matter what the terms.

Here's the twist, though. This version, titled A Dram of Drummhicit, has been created by Arthur Kopit (he of Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mama's Hung You in the Closet and I'm Feelin' So Sad fame), and co-author Anton Dudley. So, the story's bound to be blacker in its comedic feel, and it is.

Yes, in this version the fixer (Lucas Hall) comes to a remote Scottish island to deal with problems that have arisen in his boss' (Murphy Guyer) plans to build a golf resort. Yes, he encounters endearingly quirky locals who have fun introducing visitors to their customs by having them drink a dram of Drummhicit, the name of perhaps the worst Scotch ever made, and wash it down with the local water (which the locals call "crunchy" with good reason). And yes, he falls for a local woman (Polly Lee) who, like the web-toed Local Hero love interest, is different in a fantastical way.

The difference is in the plotting. Act one essentially sets up a mystery for our young hero to solve. Why are bodies suddenly surfacing from beneath the ground? And, why does the ever-changing weather always turn catastrophic when visitors try to climb to the island's high point?

So far, so good. But, act two opens, and the writers solve the mystery quickly so that they can bring in the entrepreneur to get his comeuppance and allow the lovers to live happily ever after. We even find out early in act two how the local woman is different, depriving us the pleasure of a guessing game. On this point, Local Hero was far more satisfying: the fixer ended up back in the U.S., and we never found out for certain whether his web-toed, sea-loving love was really a mermaid. The plot of Dram is as squishy as the local water is crunchy, and neither is particularly palatable.

Director Christopher Ashley's production tries to overcome the plot with theatricality and charm, and it almost turns the trick. David Zinn's clever scenic design outdoes the excellent set he's got up across town for the Old Globe's August: Osage County, and the success of the many stage effects is due to superior lighting and sound (designed by Philip Rosenberg and John Gromada, respectively). David C. Woolard's costumes make the characters look distinctive despite the light show.

Mr. Hall charms the audience enough in act one that it almost wants to go with charm instead of plot in act two (almost). Standing out among the fine supporting cast is Kelly AuCoin as the owner of the town's local pub, John Ahlin as a nearly washed-up fisherman who knows a secret, and Kathryn Meisle as an anthropologist intent on getting to the bottom of the mystery. It is also always good to see veteran performer Alan Mandell on our local stages, as well as to see local star Ron Choularton playing one of the villagers, as our two large regional theatre companies tend not to cast local actors.

Is A Dram of Drummhicit an inferior rip-off of Local Hero? Well, sort of, but not entirely. The show may not have a life beyond La Jolla, but I'm glad that we got to experience this world premiere all the same.

Performances through June 12, 2011, at the Mandell Weiss Theatre on the La Jolla Playhouse campus, 2910 La Jolla Village Drive, La Jolla. Tickets ($38 $69) available by calling (858) 550-1010 or at The La Jolla Playhouse website.

La Jolla Playhouse presents A Dram of Drummhicit, by Arthur Kopit and Anton Dudley, directed by Playhouse Artistic Director Christopher Ashley. Featuring David Zinn, Scenic Design; David C. Woolard, Costume Design; Philip Rosenberg, Lighting Design; John Gromada, Composer/Sound Design, and Gabriel Greene, Dramaturg.

With Kelly AuCoin, John Ahlin, Ron Choularton, Joseph Culliton, Murphy Guyer, Lucas Hall, Polly Lee, Alan Mandell, Kathryn Meisle, Larry Paulson, and University of California, San Diego M.F.A. student Daniel Rubiano. The ensemble includes UCSD M.F.A. students Natalie Birriel, Gabriel Lawrence, Jenni Putney, Megan Robinson and Taylor Shurte.


Photo: Kevin Berne

See the current season schedule for the San Diego area.

- Bill Eadie

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